Spare a thought for the most consistently underrated bit of snowboarding hardware – rarely at the top of anyone’s wishlist, but completely integral to a truly dialled setup. In a year when customers might be tempted to pass on an upgrade, Andrew Duthie looks at what brands are doing to encourage riders to spend cash on straps.
Credit is due to the brands that are minimising barriers to entry during what will be a crucial time for snowboarding – and in the world of binders, that means anyone upping their lower-price-point offering. Bent Metal, for example, will be debuting the Bolt in 2021/22, a more affordable model that still features BMBW’s unique Drive Plate tech. The Union Flite Pro and Rosa bindings may not be new, but they’ve long been among the most impressive lower-priced options. They’ll both be getting a significant overhaul next year, without a jump in price to match. A refresh of beginner-friendly offerings has also been promised by Burton, although exact details remain under wraps for now.
Most of Head’s binding business is focused on the beginner market, with prices that are hard to beat. They’re not resting on their laurels next year, however; redesigned versions of the FX One and FX Fay have borrowed tech from the brand’s ski line, so they’ll be lighter than ever before (hence the new ‘LYT’ suffix). Jones, on the other hand, aren’t known for affordability, so it’s great to see the mid-priced Meteorite binding join the line below the Apollo and Mercury. Like its more premium siblings, it features NOW’s ‘Skate-Tech’, as well as the ability to flip the straps and change the bushings for a mellower ride. Other welcome arrivals include the Flow NX2-TM, a new take on the NX2’s hybrid entry system that’s easier on the wallet, and the Gnu Fantast, a female-specific lightweight binder.
There’ll also be plenty of new releases and tech in to entice riders that left the training wheels behind long ago. Over at NOW, they’re getting ready to celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2022; the third incarnation of their signature skate-inspired system will see the bushings moved closer to the board’s edge for increased response, and an improved tool-less kingpin system. You’ll also find it on the Jones Apollo and Mercury. “COVID and lockdown gave us the breathing space to develop the best line of bindings we’ve ever made,” says founder JF Pelchat.
We’re intrigued by Nitro’s new ‘Factory Craft’ line of five new bindings that will have durability and sustainability at the forefront. “Rather than substituting one material with a questionably ‘greener’ material, the approach is to eliminate parts, processes and decorations that are not essential to the way our product performs,” according to Florian Lang from the Product Development team. “No coatings on plastic parts, no plastic packaging or excessive printing, preferably materials of high recycle grade like rubber parts or polymers.” With anodized aluminium and cable-reinforced straps, they look like a great option for those in search of something both bomb-proof and planet-friendly.
Female riders should definitely check out what Roxy have in store for 2021/22; the binding line has seen a bigger overhaul than usual, and now features the Lola (performance-focused with asymmetric highback) and the Viva (softer-flexing with full EVA cushioning).
COLOUR ME RAD
Under the circumstances, brands could be forgiven for working mostly from the conservative end of the palette in 20201/22, and maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing for retailers. “We expect that they will be happy with our choice to carry over a larger portion of the ‘safe’ colours and high-volume models,” predicts Nidecker designer Lucien Vink, “because nobody will know for certain how the W21 season will affect the W22 market. This way there will be less stock risk and pressure.” At the same time, their new Kaon-Plus – an upgraded version of well-received 2020/21 debutante the Kaon-X – will be available in two eye-catching colourways “to help keep excitement on the wall.” That sentiment is shared by Ride, among others; “Our line-up has been pretty focused on darker colours (and black) for a number of years,” reflects Global Brand Director Jinn Linnberg. “For 2021 you’ll see a lot more colour on the Ride binding wall.”
Salomon are focusing on “Positive colours, positive graphics” for their line of 2021/22 binders, again turning to team rider and artist-in-residence Desiree Melancon for inspiration. “This peaceful graphic gives us some hope in these weird times,” teases Baptiste Chaussignand, Product Marketing Manager. With no great leaps forward in tech planned for next year, K2 have focused on the visuals with team riders Pat Moore, Jake Kuzyk and Kennedi Deck all slated to receive signature designs.
If all this recent turmoil has left you yearning for snowboarding’s good ol’ days (not that our nostalgia-happy industry ever needs such an excuse), then look out for the new ‘OG’ colourway for the Nitro Team Pro, which harks back to the brand’s genesis.
TWEAKED AND TUNED
Of course, not everything in 2021/22 need be about major overhauls and flash designs; we’re still going to see plenty of the incremental improvements that make the best even better. Union have been making the most of their new headquarters in northern Italy; at the other end of the scale from their price-point models mentioned earlier, the high-end, Travis Rice-approved Falcor binding will now be constructed using a new forged carbon press, which results in higher quality and reduced waste. Ride are making their A9, A10, C9 and C10 models available in a smaller sizes, opening up a lot of choice for female riders, while the upgraded toe interface of Burton’s Step On system will bolster its already sizeable fanbase – as will the extended range of both Burton and DC boots that’ll work with it.
The Flux CV will feature the brand’s new ‘buffalo’ highback, with “horns placed on both sides”. If you’re picturing the kind of pointy protrusions found on Desperate Dan’s cow pies, don’t; instead it’s a subtle addition that’s built into the classic highback outline, but one that’s unmissable when you see it up close. It’ll also feature an improved baseplate, with a higher heelcup for increased response. A new highback is also coming to the Drake Reload, as well as refreshed ankle straps that provide a different level of support when they’re swapped over. Rome’s high-end ‘Asymwrap’ chassis will be keeping its winning combination of edge-to-edge response and nose-to-tail manoeuvrability, but has had a fifth of the weight shaven off. Look out also for their new improved DuraCush footbeds, and kid-friendly Ace bindings to pair with the boots of the same name.
CARRY ON CRANKING
Carryover isn’t unheard of in the binding sector – Arbor, for one, regularly do it with the black design in each of their models, and 2021/22 will be no exception – but the amount of unchanged gear looks set to jump significantly due to potential impact of COVID-19 on shops.
Amplid are one of the few brands opting for 100% carryover for bindings. “This lowers SKU and gives the retailers the chance to keep the retail prices up, so that the stock value does not decrease,” explains founder Peter Bauer. K2 are also carrying quite a few models forward after chatting to their key retailers about where the risk lies. SP are working along the same lines; “In order to give our retailers as much safety and security as possible,” says Mats Engeler, Head of Product Engineering, “we will reduce our bindings portfolio for the next year to the needed basic colourways and models.”
Despite the big announcements from Nitro that we mentioned earlier, a large part of their line will be carried forward “to give distributors and shops more flexibility with their 20/21 inventory.” Finally, Clew are considering some minor adjustments, but don’t be surprised to see much of a muchness from the step-in upstarts as they head into their second full season.
As with all things retail for 2021/22, it’s hard to say where the sweet spot will be between playing it safe during uncertain times, and getting the stoke levels up with new and eye-catching gear. Fix may have the answer; to quote Jason Broz, Head of Global Operations, their development is “moving forward like it’s 2019”. But while that means new models and designs, they’re also providing what they’re calling an “icon colourway” for everything, which will stay for the foreseeable future. ‘When COVID hit, we stood back and looked at the big picture and asked “what would we want if we were a retailer in this situation?’”, continues Jason. “Consistency was the answer. Keep the same pricing, offer the same quality and durability that Fix has become known for, but don’t change every single model year-after-year.”
Meanwhile Rossignol are going down an even more conservative route, dropping their percentage of fresh gear from 60% down to just 10% in a move that Snowboard Category Manager Arnaud Repa considers a no-brainer. “I hope COVID-19 will make everyone think differently and understand we can’t continue like this,” says he. “We need products that last longer and can easily be taken apart to be recycled. This needs to be taken into consideration as early in the development process as possible. Carrying over a large proportion of products will be tomorrow’s standard procedure, if not already today’s.”
Time will tell if such a sea change occurs in the bindings market; but for now at least, retailers have ample opportunities to manage the risks in a way that feels right for them.